Prescott College Ph.D. Sustainability Education, 2009
|Prescott College Affiliation||Alumni|
M.S. Longwood University
M.B.A. The College of William and Mary
B.A. Emory & Henry College
Please provide a brief description of what you have been doing since graduation from Prescott College:
Providing sustainable work for artisans that I know has become my passion. When people are trying to help themselves, it is exciting to adopt the mission of spreading Fair Trade. The artisans with whom I work do not want a handout; they want customers. Our Fair Trade group – we call it A FAIR WORLD- helps a number of artisans in Uganda, Thailand, and Bhutan who are striving to break the barriers that have held generations of their families in poverty. The hardship barrier is as simple as not having enough work to make a living. When Recycled Paper Jewelry arrives in roughly packed boxes from the artisans of Uganda, volunteers help to sell the jewelry of the craftspeople to individuals through home parties, in gift shops, female clothing boutiques, college bookstores, natural food stores, and museum shops. The artisans are paid well above the Uganda minimum wage, a Fair Trade wage, and a safe work environment is emphasized
With the economic downturn that has stifled some consumer spending, it is more difficult for people climbing out of poverty to continue building their lives. Sending their children to school and paying for health and home needs has become harder for the artisans. Some artisans have faced a devastating plunge back into poverty. There are 2.7 billion people in the world - about six times the number of people living in the United States - who earn less than $2 a day. That’s a challenge for us all. The economic challenge of these times makes the practice of the Fair Trade Business Model even more critical in order for the artisans to get their fair share. This motivates me every day.
The fact is that there are large numbers of “conscious consumers” who care to buy “ethically-sourced” goods rather than products made under questionable working circumstances. The proof of this is that Fair Trade stores and sales have been growing in this country, as well as in Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, over the last forty years. Last year, for example, according to the Fair Trade Foundation in England, $4.12 billion Fair Trade products were bought in 2008. During a recessionary time, people still buy some things and still spend some money. We just want people to think about what they spend and realize that their money is their power and they can make a statement for good and for A FAIR WORLD even during times when we spend less. We promote that buying Fair Trade goods is even more important now than during normal economic times. Holiday seasons and gift giving times are among the perfect times to remember those people in poverty and support them. For more information, contact Linda at Linda@afairworlddesigns.com.
You have been nominated as a Desert Star because of your significant contributions to you field and community. What inspires you to do this work?
The inspiration for working in Fair Trade with artisans was not from a thundering lightning bolt or the sight of a beautiful rainbow revealing a pot of gold or my destiny. My vocational steps of: teaching; mothering; fund raising; economic development; to Fair Trade are a part of my evolution. As a six-year-old in the fifties, my family moved half way around the world for my father’s work. Our family went to live in Northern Thailand, and this one year probably impacted my life more than all of my years in school. More than three decades passed and I returned to Thailand, seeing again replicas of the beautiful craft products that my parents had taken home to America thirty years earlier. Now I wanted to know of the delicate work of the artisans. It was another trip back to Thailand that lead me to meet the artisans who had learned since childhood how to create with bamboo, weave silk, and sew. I wondered: how could these families still be in poverty forty years later? I have learned that these skilled artisans had never received a Fair or Living Wage for their work. Tourists and corporate buyers had negotiated them down to below cost of production. American tourists are told to do this by tour guides. This is “criminal”; at minimum, socially unjust. Buyers always bought their crafts for less than the price of the materials and the artisans gave no value on their time. I knew that ethical buying principles could change their lives. I found the same circumstance repeated in Uganda. A mission was born when I learned that people could be taught to be Fair Trade consumers and artisans could be taught to only sell for a Fair wage, a Living Wage through the Fair Trade Business Model. Only then will these people of solid work ethics move out of poverty.
How did Prescott College education contribute to your accomplishment?
As a member of the first graduating Ph.D. class of Prescott College, I was among a few who helped the graduate administration develop “the most unique Ph.D. program in the world.” The students in our class each came from a different profession. We were able to carve and design our Ph.D. dissertation study to fit current times and our professional needs. The fact that I was able to study and write about the Fair Trade Business Model has totally changed my life.
I am currently speaking domestically and internationally about Fair Trade. This passing on of information will ultimately advance the elimination of poverty from our planet. By spreading the Fair Trade Movement, I can change the Quality of Life for artisans who live without the basic necessities of life such as adequate food, healthcare, environmentally-safe homes, and education for their children. My goal and purpose is to help a few artisans and their families have a better life, while being a Fair Trade educator, speaking at college and universities and civic groups to the people who can help educate the public about Fair Trade consuming.
What is your advice to students who are interested in following a similar path?
In the United States, the Fair Trade Movement participation is sparser than in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. To learn early in life about the principles of the Fair Trade Movement will be life-changing and the awareness could motivate a vocation change. In practicing the principles of Fair Trade, you can help one family and then another, each time you buy a Fair Trade products, all toward eliminating poverty in the world of 2 billion poor earth-dwellers. Changing the quality of life for one family’s children, by allowing them to receive an education, can be a part of making a difference in the world.
In my dissertation, I referred to FT as the Fair Trade Business Model. FTBM is affirmed as a viable business model by schools such as Said School of Business, University of Oxford, which sponsors such conferences as the Fair Trade Forum in October 2009. Even though the model has been functioning for forty to sixty years, according to Oxfam, a Fair Trade organization that began in Europe, there is great work to be done to provide Living Wages for the poor who reside in every country of the world.